Major solar thermal firms 'are misleading consumers'

Consumer group calls on industry to clean up its act after undercover investigation reveals high-pressure sales tactics

A A A

Solar thermal firms are bamboozling householders with high pressure sales tactics and misleading financial statistics, an undercover investigation by a consumer group has found.

Which? condemned most of the companies it came across as "cowboys" and cautioned that the Government would have to clean up the taxpayer-backed industry, vital for the battle against climate change, unless it improved its performance.

The consumer group launched its investigation after a rise in complaints about solar thermal firms. Undercover researchers rented a house in southern England and invited firms to quote for installing solar thermal systems, which use sunlight to heat tap water, as opposed to solar PV systems, which generate electricity - and which were not involved in the Which? exercise.

Of the 10 that exaggerated the financial savings that could be made, the double-glazing giant Everest subsequently admitted that its representative had made false claims – that its system could save 30 times more money than was possible.

Another firm, Ideal Solar Energy, wrongly claimed a solar scheme could halve gas bills and grossly misquoted energy supply statistics from the energy regulator Ofgem.

Which? said: "While these two companies concerned us the most, we received poor service and exaggerated claims of performance from nearly all 14 firms."

Its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, said: "Most of the firms in our investigation behaved like true cowboys – they promised huge savings that bore no relation to reality, and some really piled pressure on the homeowner to sign up immediately or risk losing a one-off 'special offer'."

He added: "The solar industry is too important to our long-term energy needs for things to drag on like this."

Neil McLoughlin, a trading standards officer who saw undercover footage of the Everest sales visit, said the precise nature of the quotation made the claim even more misleading and suggested the Everest may have broken the law on sales tactics by offering thousands of pounds off the price for making a decision "on the spot".

After being informed of the "sting", Everest said: "We're disappointed that our representative failed to use the sales support documentation provided and made claims he knew to be false."

In addition to boasting it could halve gas bills, Ideal successively dropped its originally quote of £8,690 to £5,860 and made a "pushy" phone call to the householder. It also misquoted statistics from energy regulator Ofgem about the proportion of a gas bill that goes on heating.

Ideal later defended its pitch, saying: "Like all retailers, we offer limited promotions on a selective basis" and added it instructed its sales agents not to specify savings to hot water bills.

Just one company, Southern Solar, was found to be helpful and provide sensible advice.

Last year, the OFT received 1,000 complaints about the solar panel industry – high for an industry with fewer than 100,000 installations in UK homes.

The Renewable Energy Association, a trade body which runs an assurance scheme for solar installers, said it was concerned by the report. A spokesman said: "We will be contacting Which? to follow up on their investigation, and take any action necessary against any of the companies which are members of our scheme."

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all